Garbiñe Muguruza claimed a maiden Grand Slam at Roland Garros on Saturday, defeating defending champion Serena Williams 7-5 6-4 to postpone the American great’s bid to match Steffi Graf’s record of 22 major titles.
Going into Saturday’s final, Muguruza held the less-tangible but equally portentous title of being the last player to beat the world number one on the Parisian clay. That match, in the second round in 2014, ended 6-2, 6-2 in the Spaniard’s favour and was a seismic upset given that in their previous meeting at the Australian Open in 2013, Williams had dropped just two games in swatting her opponent aside.
Williams said after their last match at Roland Garros that if Muguruza continued to play as she had that day, she could go on to win the 2014 tournament. As it transpired, Muguruza lost in the quarter-finals to eventual champion Maria Sharapova but the groundwork had been laid.
Williams and Muguruza next met in the Wimbledon final in 2015, where Muguruza tested the world number one’s resolve but ultimately fell short, the occasion getting the better of the Spaniard’s self-confessed nerves. After her emphatic semi-final win at Roland Garros over Samantha Stosur, Muguruza said she had managed now to calm her inner anxiety.
That was evident as soon as she had the chance to lay into her opponent on Court Philippe Chatrier. Serving first, Williams sought to impose her authority with some booming deliveries while Muguruza set about reading the American’s serve. In the fourth game, Muguruza was forced on to the back foot, saving two break point opportunities, but also sending a message across the net in the form of some unreturnable groundstrokes, hammering into the corners to treat the Parisian crowd to the rare sight of Williams hustling along the baseline in search of an answer.
In the next game, Williams double-faulted to hand her opponent a break, the American sensing that this match was not going to be decided by the force of her aura alone. Stepping up a gear, the defending champion broke back to make it 4-4 but the Spaniard cranked up her most potent weapon, the cross-court forehand, to break straight back.
Serving for the set, Muguruza’s nerves made an unwelcome appearance but she eventually sealed the opener 7-5 with a ferocious backhand winner. Rattled, Williams netted a tame backhand in the opening game of the second set but Muguruza repaid the gift with consecutive double faults to surrender her advantage. Another break followed, Muguruza belting a forehand down the line to move to 2-1 and she consolidated in the next game to put the ball firmly in Williams’ court.
The next few games went with serve and at 3-5 Williams was forced into a spectacular rearguard action, saving four Championship points as Muguruza sought to end the contest without the need to risk a nervy service game. Williams barely clung on but did put her opponent on serve, Muguruza bringing up 30-0 with another fizzing forehand that the American barely got her racket frame on. On her fifth Championship point, the world number four ended a scintillating rally with an audacious lob from the baseline that tickled the line to the disbelief of Williams, who could only force a rueful smile as the ball bobbed towards the hoardings.
Muguruza’s inaugural Grand Slam triumph was Spain’s first in the women’s draw since Arantxa Sánchez Vicario lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in 1998.
Speaking after the match, Williams said the match point was one of the best she had ever seen, adding: “Clearly, Garbiñe has a brilliant future.”
With her ranking due to rise to world number two on Monday, that future could be a very near one. At the All England Club, where the speedier surface is a more natural canvas for the power hitters, Muguruza and Williams will be seeded to meet again in the final, assuming the organisers do not exercise their prerogative not to follow the rankings.